Contrary to how it seems, houseplants were not discovered by millenials! In fact, wind back 30 years and you’ll find that shelves were heaving with Spathiphyllum, Spider Plants and more.

Katharine Crouch refers to herself as the ‘Haphazard Gardener’, but this does her an injustice. In 1999, she won BBC Gardener of the Year! Way back when she was a student at the Glasgow School of Art,  her studio was chock-a-block with house plants. Here is her story of houseplants, and no doubt you’ll benefit from some of her hilarious tips too!

“Coming from a garden-crazy family, and at a time when most houses boasted jute macramé hanging pots of plants, it seemed entirely natural to grow a Swiss Cheese Plant first in a pot and finally in a dustbin right around the bedroom of my student digs! They were pretty much compulsory back them, and often grown in miserable, dusty and draughty conditions. However, mine was a splendid beast, lovingly fed with Baby Bio, and unfurling a dustbin-lid sized new leaf every 2 weeks.

Katharine in 1994

The history of growing plants indoors goes back centuries, possibly to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, for all we know. References to houseplants in Britain were scant until Sir Hugh Platt wrote about cultivating plants indoors in his 1652 book ‘The Garden of Eden’. When exotic plant specimens were brought back from the New World and glass became cheaper, greenhouses and conservatories were constructed and a passion for indoor plants was born.

A houseplant den!

Pity the poor plants grown in Victorian houses though, they had to endure coal fire fumes and low light conditions. Aspidistras were popular and known as the Cast Iron Plant because of their reluctance to die in the worst conditions, and they are still a good choice for the houseplant klutz today.

Back home in the 1970’s, it took mum an hour every sunday to feed and water her houseplants, and I took plenty of Spider Plants, Maranta, Begonias and Fuchsias back to art school, and had a nice sideline in selling their offspring to other students!

Most famous houseplant ever?

Here are a few of my tips for the art of growing houseplants!

  • Plants need some light, food, water and love, just like your kids. When I see feeble, ailing dead house plants, I have to wonder how some kids made it to adulthood at all. Figure it out, people!
  • By all means have a go being all modern with mossy, bally hangy things called Kokedama. This is on my List Of things To Do If Only I Could Be Arsed. Best of luck keeping them regularly watered and not dripping on the carpet.
  • Move to an old house with high ceilings and deep windowsills. If not, remember a conservatory is for conserving tender plants, not for hanging washing or as a kids play room, so feel free to evict both and move in the plants.
  • It is time for the 1970’s jute or cotton string macramé plant holder to make a comeback. Either go charity shop retro, or modern by weaving your own out of recycled Waitrose carrier bags. A much nicer colour than Lidl bags, darling.
  • If you are crap at growing houseplants and have sunny windowsills, grow Echeverias and Aeoniums. They prefer you forgetting to water them in winter, and don’t mind being shoved outside in the summer.
  • If you are crap at growing houseplants and have shady windowsills, grow spider plants and begonias.
  • If you are really really crap at growing house plants, buy orchids, which will flower for 6 months and when you have nearly killed them, you can throw them out and buy new ones. No one will notice but me, you cruel heartless b****.
  • If you grow weeping plants on top of the dresser and forget to water them, they are liable to fall on heads. The kids should then wear their cycle helmets in the house.
  • Of course the kitchen sink is a perfect place to pot on house plants, though blocking the plughole with compost is asking for trouble. Potting plants is more fun than cooking dinner, though.
  • The bath is a great place to shower house plants to remove a season’s dust. See above for plughole management.
  • Your bruised, unfed, unwashed family may leave you. Then you will have room for more houseplants.
  • Millenials?! I never would have thought that. Houseplants were so much bolder in the 1970’s. I mean people really could get carried away with them. Remember those big terrariums? Goodness! Those would be so unsightly now. We used to convert old aquariums into terrariums too! That macrame was ridiculous! I remember when Boston ferns were very popular, and then sometime in the mid 1980s, the Dallas fern took over. How funny!

    November 5, 2017
  • Louis Riehm

    I place a plastic drop cloth on my dinning room table when potting plants. It keeps things clean and there’s lots of space to work. And, my window sills are wide, and I love my plants displayed on them.

    November 8, 2017

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